Debates Matter: Hillary Rising and Marco Fading?



By Mark Green

Shrum and Lowry hear two "sighs of relief" in Iowa -- from HRC, because two straight losses would've been awful, and from Lowry, because Iowa vindicated his gutsy National Review issue denouncing Trump. Also: There's now a sense that Clinton's rising in NH, while Rubio's robotry reveals someone more callow than charismatic.

On Clinton-Sanders After Iowa. There's a consensus that Hillary helped herself in her Town Hall and Debate with a personal answer about her humility and gratitude and with her foreign policy chops... while Sanders cleans up on her Iraq vote and Wall Street money. Rich is impressed by Sanders's "credible, quirky candidacy" and thinks that he's becoming a Democratic "Betty White" to young Dems "due to his passionate sincerity."

Who won the "progressive" label debate? Probably the more purist Sanders, they agree, but she helped herself by observing that "gatekeeper" Sanders would question Obama's progressive credentials. As for the lingering email's problem/scandal, Bob thinks that her declarative answer in the debate effective when she pointed out that she'd never emailed anything labeled classified and that Gen. Powell agreed that retroactive reclassifications were ridiculous. Rich admits that she's not now the target of an FBI investigation but "is still in legal jeopardy."

Given the outsized expectations generated by Sanders big early lead in polls, however, there seems to be a fair chance that Clinton, A)Will "over-perform" in NH with a narrow loss, and B) Has an advantage because of "electability." Neither use that self-serving word but NBC's Chuck Todd went there by asking Sanders if he could end could up a Democratic "Goldwater"? Shrum notes that in today's very polarized politics, there are probably no more 60-40 landslides but that a second order criterion for undecided Dems will be which candidate is most likely to win in the Fall.

Lowry candidly admits that because of how poorly the word "socialist" polls and because of Sanders's proposed taxes on the middle class, he'd be a very weak candidate in the Fall who "could only win if a Trump were the nominee and a Bloomberg ran as an independent."

Host: My Feel-the-Bern friends may choose to make this nomination contest a progressive purity test but I recall how the GOP swift-boated a war hero into a war coward in 2004 and cannot be expected to be any nicer to the impressively sincere Sanders. As for Hillary, since they've accused her of enabling Monica, murdering Vince Foster, being indifferent to American lives in Benghazi and a crook in her personal emails, it's hard to see what more mud could change minds. In the progressive face-off, it's Sanders on points. In a general election to stop the far-right takeover of America, it's Clinton by a KO. Again, why do all Republicans I know pray it's Bernie? What do these pros know that my progressive allies don't?

On the GOP Field after Iowa. The panel understands that predictions about NH are silly since, A) Half the voters probably make up their minds only over this final weekend, and B) These New Englanders enjoy upsetting apple carts given how future presidents -- Reagan, GWBush, BHO -- were schlonged there before their later comebacks.

So: Trump is holding his lead in a place where votes are counted rather than bused to caucus gyms, which helps the bombastic Trump over the more traditional Cruz. And given a near five way tie in NH for second and bragging rights, Tuesday night will truly be fascinating.

We three marvel at the fluctuating nature of the race in tone -- Trump going from gracious to vicious within 18 hours ("a disgusting... fraud... cheater" he said of Cruz, obliterating Reagan's 11th Commandment) while Cruz went ballistic back by arguing that Donald might start a nuclear war. (Yes but where is he on eminent domain, the debate moderators wanted to know, though not where anyone was on guns, #blacklivesmatter, climate.)

Shrum lauds Rich for his magazine's courageous denunciation of Trump when he was the heavy favorite in all polls as something "that Buckley would have been proud of." Lowry is appreciative, noting that "while it's hard to predict what someone so idiosyncratic would do, Bill hated loud populist rhetoric."

We all lament Jeb Bush's struggles because, according to the Host, "he's obviously a smart, competent, conservative...yet such a weak candidate that he ended a recent cri de coeur at a town hall by pausing and then saying sadly, "please clap."

Host: Our show precedes the seventh and most interesting GOP debate Saturday evening in Durham. The Host tweeted at the very start whether anyone would try to expose the Talented Mr. Rubio to slow his "momentum" after Iowa. Turns out that Chris Christie, the pugnacious prosecutor from Joisey, was more than happy to do so, completely popping the "bubble boy's balloon." After his lunge-for-water at last year's SOTU and this weekend's rehearsed and repeated performance, it'll be hard for this soufflé to rise twice.

Obama & Rubio on Muslims. The President went to a Baltimore mosque to speak movingly about how his audience were not either Muslims or Americans but both Muslims and Americans...and they should be proud of both. This address earned widespread raves, including form the Wall Street Journal, although Senator Rubio condemned him for being "divisive' and for saying the Muslims were subjected to discrimination in America rather than Christians. It's the War on Christmas déjà vu.